SENATE APPROVES SPEED LIMIT BILL WITH 70 MPH MAXIMUM
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Despite some concern that the state Legislature should go ahead and set the speed limit, the Senate has left that authority with the Department of Transportation.
“We will leave it up the Department of Transportation to set the speed limit,” said Sen. Travis Little, D-Corinth, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “But this legislation would set the maximum speed limits.”
Under the bill passed Thursday by the Mississippi Senate, the state Department of Transportation could not set a speed limit of more than 70 mph on interstate and controlled-access highways, which are four-lane highways. On other four-lane and two-lane highways, the maximum would be 65 mph.
A controlled-access highway is one with only limited points of entry and exit, such as U.S. Highway 78. Generally, controlled-access highways are built to interstate specifications.
The House of Representatives now has the option of taking up the Senate-passed bill or passing its own. There have been indications that the House might take up the Senate bill to save time.
While the bill passed the Senate with no one voting against it, Sen. Jim Bean, R-Hattiesburg, asked during Senate floor action why the bill did not go ahead and set speed limits.
Little said the Transportation Committee heard testimony from DOT employees and discussed whether the Legislature should set the speed limits.
“We felt like these people (DOT employees) are professionals,” Little said. “They have engineers. It would probably be appropriate to leave it up to them.”
The discussion of setting the speed limit on state highways has come about because Congress passed legislation last year returning that authority to the states.
Donna Boatwright, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said under the federal legislation states have until March 1 to make a decision on the speed limit. If there is no action by then, the old state law, which was in place before the federally mandated 55 mph speed limit was passed in 1974, will go into effect. In Mississippi before 1974, there was a separate speed limit for big trucks.
DOT officials have indicated they will set the speed limit on interstate and controlled-access highways at 70 mph and 55 mph on two-lane roads instead of the maximum allowed of 65 mph.